About the Chatham Islands
The Chatham Islands are made up of Chatham Island and Pitt Island and are located 800 kilometres east of the South Island.
Take the two-hour flight to the Chatham Island with Air Chathams(opens in new window), departing from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch airports.
Around three million years ago, these remote islands were uplifted from the ocean floor. They brought to the surface the fascinating geology of ancient continental rocks, limestone and undersea volcanoes.
Chatham Islands birds and wildlife
Geographically isolated for millions of years, the Chathams have witnessed the evolution of unique bird species that make the islands important to conservation nationally and internationally.
Chatham Island Magenta Petrel
The islands are home to 20% of New Zealand’s threatened bird species, many of which are on world birding lists, these include the critically endangered Chatham Island Magenta Petrel(opens in new window) or tāiko - a small grey, black and white seabird who prefers a burrow over a nest.
Petrel numbers were declining due to loss of habitat and pests on Chatham Island so lived on preditor free Rangatira Island (not far from Pitt Island). With the help of the Department of Conservation (DOC), petrels numbers have increased and the management of artificial burrows and chick care have seen numbers increase from 30 breeding pairs in the 1980s to over 2000 birds today.
Chatham Island Black Robin
The saving of the Chatham Island Black Robin(opens in new window) is a great conservation success story. This cute, palm-sized robin was on the brink of extinction, with less than 20 birds known to be living in the 1970s and just one breeding pair remaining in 1980.
Huge efforts from the New Zealand Wildlife Service have saved the robins from extinction and while they are still a vulnerable species their habitat is more stable and numbers slowly increasing from 250 birds.
Seabirds and seals
The mollymawk (albatross), royal albatross, parea (pigeon), Chatham Island and Pitt Island shags, tui, re-crowned parakeet, warbler and oystercatcher can all be found on the Chatham Islands.
The resident fur seal colonies are easy to visit and passing dolphins and orca can sometimes be seen from the shore.
Taking a tour of the seal colonies is a must-do when visiting.
Tours to view these fascinating birds(opens in new window) should be booked in advance.
Chatham Islands unique plants
'The Chathams' are home to some of New Zealand's most threatened plants. Although some are protected on island sanctuaries many can be found on both Chatham and Pitt Islands.
Chatham Islands Forget-me-not
The delightful Chatham Island forget-me-not(opens in new window) (Myosotidium hortensia) features large blue flower heads that emerge from the glossy dark green leaves. The best time to see them in bloom is in September and October.
Watch your step on the beaches as these delicate yet sturdy plants seem to plant themselves amongst rocks, sand, cliffs and are even known to grow out of seaweed clumps in and around Henga Scenic Reserve and at Kaingaroa Point.
You may be lucky enough to spot the rare white flowering Forget-me-not which is thought to be almost extinct due to animals and humans trodding on them.
Chatham Islands Christmas tree
The bright yellow flowers of a rautini tree better known as the Chatham Island Christmas Tree, can be spotted in full bloom in the summer months and at over 8 metres tall is a mighty sight.
It's similar to the New Zealand Christmas tree (Pohutukawe tree) on the mainland with its bright red blooms in summer.
Other plants and trees
A forest walk near Te Whanga lagoon leads to stands of flowering nikau palms and glades of broadleaf native forest. Other endemic plants able to be viewed on island walks include the aster, akeake, koromiko.
Before you visit the islands find out more about Chatham Islands environment.(opens in new window)
A well-stocked ocean
Fish and shellfish
With nothing but ocean at every point of the compass, the Chatham Islands are rightly famous for fresh seafood and fascinating marine life.
Daily catches of cod, groper, crayfish (rock lobster) and shellfish take pride of place on local menus.
Fishing is a popular visitor activity and the opportunity to take a tour of a seafood processing factory(opens in new window) and view paua (abalone) and kina (sea urchin) in live wells is offered to pre-booked groups.
Treasure hunting in the lagoon
On the shores of beautiful Te Whanga lagoon, near Blind Jim's Creek, careful fossicking is likely to be rewarded by the discovery of fossilised shark teeth. Around 30 million years old, these teeth are a treasure of the island.
Some, from the jaws of prehistoric megaladon (an extinct species of shark), are around 10 centimetres long.
Geological sites on the Chatham Islands
The Basalt Columns at Ohira Bay parallel those of Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway that has been given UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
The unique pillow lava formation is known as Splatter Rock (or Taniwha Rock) and the impressive vista of cones that comprise the Northern Volcanics in north-west Chatham are simply stunning geological works of mother nature.
On Pitt Island, the contrasting views from the ‘Mars’ lookout of the 65 million-year-old Red Bluff Tuff formations at Waihere Bay to 5 million year old Mangere lsland are also impressive.
The vast changing landscapes within such a small landmass create lasting impressions.